I was talking to a university scientist last spring and the fellow had a lot of astonishing things to say.
Now he was a plant scientist with a solid education and years of experience in his field. A very conscientious fellow, and very interested in nature.
Or rather, interested in a particular ideological conception of nature.
For he was convinced that humans are destroying the planet with global warming and acid rain. That modern farming and ranching is one of the biggest threats to the survival of the planet. That he and his like-minded colleagues were pretty much the only ones who were keeping the planet alive, that they were vastly underappreciated (and underpaid) and represented the thin green line fighting a losing battle against the ravages of evil humans.
It was a magnificent speech, and clearly one that he practiced on a daily basis.
Most astonishingly, he was convinced that neither he, nor any other human, was a part of nature. That humans have evolved beyond nature to the point that we have the ability to dictate terms and control every aspect of the ecology of the planet.
The solution to fixing the planet, he avowed, was dead simple. Stop farming and ranching, put everyone to work in community gardens, and go to electric cars.
That’s your tax dollars at work, my friends.
As it turns out, his concept of nature exists only in the minds of people who believe with all their heart that they stand apart from nature. They have a Disneyesque conception of nature as an eden-like sylvan glade, a place where it’s always warm and green and sunny and nice. When they leave their offices and travel away from the campus and the city and they behold the reality of nature, it appears to be flawed, and all the non-green, non-warm, non-sunny and non-nice things are assessed as the ravages of mankind.
This fellow I’m describing is admittedly an extreme example. I don’t think he really believes everything he says. I think he’s far more interested in dictating what people do and how they live than in studying and understanding nature, which is his actual job description.
Nevertheless, he and his like-minded fellows are influential experts, and their message resonates with a lot of people – mostly those urban and suburban types who don’t get outside very often. In other words, with most modern first-world people.
This man-apart-from-nature notion is pretty commonly held, at least at a subconscious level. Most of us live in houses or apartments and get around in automobiles. We get our warmth and light and ability to move about by operating clever switches. We forage for food and clothing and other supplies in brightly lit buildings, bustling with other humans. Nature seems far away. The sylvan glade can only be visited at great expense, or viewed by switching on the television or visiting a social media site on the internet.
Most people are smart enough to know better, and can see how false the apart-from-nature notion is. But the narrative is pervasive, and in an ironic way feeds into the natural anxiety people have about the precariousness of their existence. I don’t think modern, first-world humans think about it often, but most of us do realize that if the clever switches ever stop working we will be in for a world of woes.
I think that most modern, first-world humans realize that they depend on a massive infrastructure which, in turn, depends on nature. Most folks have little understanding and less experience of either. So there’s a lot of anxiety there, just beneath the surface of objective thought.
“What if the doomsayers are right? Someone should do something. I can’t because I’m not an expert. Please, somebody fix it so I can live my life without anxiety!”
Snapshot of reality
After checking cows and calves the other morning it was time to check the bulls, which are housed in a pasture several miles south of where the cows and calves are presently domiciled.
I decided to check the bulls on foot. I had a couple of reasons for that. I wanted to scout grass in the pasture, and I always do a better job of it on foot. And of course a nice little prairie stroll would fit neatly into my exercise routine.
It was just a beautiful morning. A rainy weather system was passing and the dreary gray overcast was breaking into blue skies and cottony-white puffball clouds. There was a bit of a south-southwest breeze, and while it wasn’t much of a breeze it combined with the 40 degree air temperature to make it just a bit chilly. I wore a sweatshirt.
As usual on these hikes I carried a 25-pound pack along with my trusty rifle. Mostly for the weight and complexity, but also because the rifle is a tool I use in living with nature.
After the rain the milk vetch was blooming. The winter wheat was lush and emerald green. In only a few weeks it will head out and flower, then begin making grain. In about 75 days it’ll be harvested.
As I caught a good hiking rhythm I began to appreciate how beautiful the morning was.
The bulls were in fine shape. Birds and bees and ants were busy doing their thing.
After I checked the bulls I continued my hike. At about the four-mile mark I noticed some activity up ahead. Something was slinking up out of a gully and moving into the tree line about 300 yards to the south of me.
It was a pair of coyotes.
There’s been quite a bit more coyote activity this spring than there’s been for several years. I understand why. The last several years of above-average rainfall have produced a lot of green stuff, which prompted an increase in hares, rabbits, ground squirrels, mice, voles, and other prey animals. Which prompted an increase in predator numbers. It’s nature. That’s how she rolls.
The coyotes have been pressing the cows and calves a bit more than I like this spring. They haven’t predated any calves, and I don’t expect them to. That doesn’t mean they don’t go through the stalking/hunting process, nor does it mean that they won’t take a calf if they get an opportunity.
My response is to help the coyotes decide to look for better/less dangerous hunting grounds. I do this by shooting coyotes when the appropriate opportunity arises. Which it did the other morning.
I had the breeze in my favor, blowing from the coyotes to me. I also had the sun in my favor, casting a lot of tree shadows about and making it hard for the coyotes to see me clearly. They knew I was there, but they didn’t know what I was. They cautiously approached to about 225 yards and paused. One turned her profile to me and squatted down on her haunches, nose up and testing the breeze.
I eased over to a fence post, switched the optic on, and flipped up the magnifier. I peered through the optic, and keeping in mind where 55 grain pointed soft point bullets shoot compared to M-855, placed the point of the chevron about two inches above and just behind the coyote’s shoulder. I took my time and squeezed off a well-placed shot.
At the moment I fired, however, the coyote bolted. My shot took her through the hips, and she dropped immediately. I hoped that the shock of the hit would be enough to kill her outright, but it wasn’t. She flopped about a bit and then dragged herself off into a plowed field.
I followed her into the field and finished the job with a close range heart shot from my .40 S&W. I was disappointed that I didn’t get an instant kill. Even though I’d done everything to the best of my ability and made a perfect shot, I’d failed in my responsibility to cleanly kill. That’s the way it goes sometimes. You do the best you can.
I feel neither good nor bad about killing the coyote. Those kind of feelings really don’t come into play. I’m part of nature, the coyote is part of nature, and today was just another of nature’s give-and-take episodes.